Punishing Rosa Maria Paya

Saturday, January 5, 2013
By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso in Havana Times:

Punishing Cuba’s Rosa Maria Paya

The recent immigration reforms enacted by the Cuban government after a year-long push were greeted with joy by intellectuals, foreign governments and international organizations.

Some responded in that fashion out of diplomatic pragmatism, others out of ignorance, and others due to that diffuse motive where political loyalty mixes with complicity.

At the center stage of their jubilation was the elimination of exit permits, which means — following the logic of the cheerleaders of Raul Castro’s reforms — that Cubans will no longer have to ask permission to travel abroad.

Although the executive order has not yet come into force, I invite those doing the cheering to take a moment and pay attention to the case of Rosa Maria Paya.

She is the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, the recently deceased leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. This is a young woman who has not reached her first quarter-century. A recent university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics; she was invited by Chile’s Miguel de Cervantes University to pursue a degree in public policy. She was denied permission to leave the country and she was not even informed of the reason for the refusal.

Noting the articles summarizing the official reasons for deciding who can and cannot travel, one cannot determine in which category Rosa Paya fits.

Discounting technical reasons — though she’s a college graduate, the University of Havana rejected her as a teacher alleging procedural matters — I can’t imagine that this young woman could be placed in the sinister categories of being a threat to the “public interest,” “the foundations of the Cuban State” or “national security.”

In short, Paya is a young woman whose brief path in life has not allowed her to become a leader within the asphyxiating spaces of the opposition. She wasn’t invited to a hostile country or by an organization of the militant opposition; instead, she was invited by a recognized university that is linked to a political current that, while in no way sympathetic to the Cuban regime, is opposed to the blockade/embargo and to violence.

From the official Cuban point of view, Rosa Maria is punishable because she has adopted a position that is politically belligerent with regard to the government, which is completely her right, and because apparently she is attempting to assume the leadership dramatically abandoned by her father, which, needless to note, is also her right.

The Cuban government — hard and as brittle as the ice in which it keeps Cuban society embedded — is pathologically afraid of such civic challenges.

Rosa is not a threat to Cuban national security or a danger to the public interest of society. But she can become a nagging pebble in the authoritarian shoe.

This is why the Cuban government has decided to limit her visibility by preventing her from traveling abroad. It has decided to use the infamous tact of lesson-teaching punishment against Paya, with this understood as imposing example-setting punishment against a person whose behavior deviates from the social norms.

This means sending a message to the thousands of young Cubans who might otherwise eventually think freely, aspire to directly electing their leaders from among various alternatives and try to organize in ways they see fit.

Even if they finally do let her travel — one must always recognize that there’s a limit to political foolishness — the message is clear: travel isn’t a right but a concession.

I think it would be interesting to hear views concerning this case from all of the enthusiastic supporters of the recent immigration reform measures and the unlikely substantial change these represent.

It doesn’t matter if they cheer from the balconies out of prudence, fear, loyalty or complicity. I only ask them, as a compatriot, if political decency will allow us to leave Rosa Maria Paya by herself.